The Iowa OWI Guide

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Operating while Intoxicated

Implied Consent

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Ignition Interlock Information



I just got arrested for a State of Iowa OWI charge.  What happens now?


ISSUE ONE:  The Iowa Implied Consent Proceeding:  Every state including Iowa has some type of "implied consent law."  Implied consent refers to a body of law that states that anyone who operates a motor vehicle in the State of Iowa is deemed to have consented or agreed to have a blood, breath and / or urine test administered in order to determine alcohol level or presence of drugs, whenever a law enforcement officer has reasonable grounds to believe the driver is operating the motor vehicle under the influence.  Like most states, Iowa imposes penalties for failing or refusing a breath, blood or urine test―a license revocation.


Pursuant to Iowa's implied consent law, your drivers license (or your right to drive in Iowa if you're not a Iowa licensed driver) was most likely revoked for anywhere from 180 days to two years for failing or refusing a chemical test.  Read your paperwork carefully.  You only have a short time (generally 10 days) to act if you want to request a hearing to appeal this proposed revocation.



ISSUE TWO:  The Iowa OWI Criminal Case:  Separate from the implied consent revocation is the criminal charge for operating while intoxicated (OWI).  In Iowa, it is unlawful for any person to operate a motor vehicle:


(1) while under the influence of an alcoholic beverage or other drug or a combination of alcohol and drugs;

(2) while having an alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent or more, as determined by a chemical test taken within two hours of the time of operation (sometimes referred to as a "per se OWI / DUI"); or

(3) while having any amount of a controlled substance in one’s body. 

Important:  The implied consent / administrative license suspension proceeding and the criminal OWI case are completely separate from one another. 


Will my Iowa driver license be revoked / suspended?


RELATED TO ISSUE ONE ABOVE:  Your Iowa driver license (or your right to drive in Iowa if you do not have a valid Iowa license) may be revoked pursuant to Iowa's implied consent law for failing or for refusing a chemical (breath / blood / urine) test for alcohol and / or drugs.  Again, you may challenge this revocation by requesting an administrative hearing with the Department of Transportation within 10 days of your arrest. 



RELATED TO ISSUE TWO ABOVE:  If you are convicted of the OWI charge, you will also lose your license (or your right to drive in Iowa if you don't have a valid Iowa license) for 180 days or more.  This revocation is separate and distinct from the implied consent / administrative license revocation.  Talk to your Iowa OWI lawyer for possible revocation lengths for your situation.



Also keep in mind that your license can be suspended for a variety of reasons unrelated to an OWI / DUI arrest e.g. excessive tickets, hit and run etc.


What happens if I get caught driving while my license is suspended / revoked?


Driving while your license is revoked should be avoided as it is a new criminal offense.  If you drive while your license is revoked for a criminal conviction for OWI, you have committed a serious misdemeanor.  Penalties include a fine of $1000 and possible vehicle impoundment. 


If you are convicted of a second or greater offense of driving with a revoked license, your vehicle may be seized and forfeited.  A vehicle owner who allows a revoked driver to operate his or her vehicle may be charged with a simple misdemeanor. 


Are there other penalties that I face for driving while my license is revoked?


Yes.  If you accumulate enough convictions for traffic crimes you can become a habitual offender which will result in your driving privileges being barred for anywhere from two to six years.  You become a "habitual offender" if you have convictions for three or more of the following offenses within a six-year period:

  • Manslaughter resulting from the operation of a motor vehicle; 6 points.

  • Operating while intoxicated; 4 points.

  • Driving a motor vehicle while the person's driver's license is suspended, denied, revoked, or barred; 2 - 4 points.

  • Perjury or the making of a false affidavit or statement under oath to the department of public safety; 2 points.

  • Committing a motor vehicle felony; 5 points.

  • Failure to stop and leave information or to render aid at an accident site; 5 points.

  • Eluding or attempting to elude a pursuing law enforcement vehicle; 5 points.

  • Serious injury by operation of a vehicle; 5 points.

If you become a habitual offender and as a result accumulate 6 - 7 points you will be barred from driving for two years; if you have 8 - 9 points you will be barred for three years; 10 - 12 points for four years; 13 - 15 points for five years; and 16 or more points you will be barred from driving for six years.  A conviction for driving after being barred can result in a serious penalties.


I really need to drive.  Will I be able to get a occupational / conditional / probationary permit / work permit / temporary restricted license?

If you're 18 years of age or older, you may be eligible for a temporary restricted license also known as a "work permit.Whether you qualify for a temporary restricted license depends on several factors including your blood alcohol content (BAC) and whether this is your first or subsequent OWI offense.  You likely will be required to install an ignition interlock device and wait for a certain amount of time (30 days to one year) to elapse before you're eligible for a temporary restricted license. 

You cannot obtain a temporary restricted license to drive a commercial vehicle.  Speak with your Iowa OWI attorney about whether you qualify for a temporary restricted license and how to apply.

What is the difference between a OWI, DUI, DWI, OUI, DWUI etc.?

These terms are all acronyms that refer to the offense commonly known as "drunk driving."  Different states have different names for the crime.  For example, in New York the charge is known as driving while intoxicated or DWI.  Florida uses the term DUI for driving under the influence.  Iowa law uses the phrase "operating while intoxicated" or OWI.  This website uses the terms OWI and DUI interchangeably.


Is an OWI in Iowa a misdemeanor or felony charge?


In Iowa, a first OWI conviction is a serious misdemeanor.  A second OWI offense within 12 years is an aggravated misdemeanor.  A third, fourth, etc OWI offense in the past 12 years is a Class D felony.  Under Iowa law, OWI / DUI / DWI convictions within the last 12 years in any state are counted as prior offenses.


What type of penalties might I face if I am convicted of an Iowa DUI charge?


Upon conviction of an Iowa DUI offense, a defendant can receive a variety of penalties including alcohol screening / treatment / education.  A range of minimum penalties is set forth below: 


See Note 1
no priors within past 12 years

(Serious Misdemeanor)
  • 180 day to one year license revocation (see Note 2);
  • At least 48 hours jail time;
  • Several hundred dollars in fines.
second offense within 12 years
(Aggravated Misdemeanor)
  • One to two year license revocation (see note 3);
  • Temporary restricted license may be available after one year;
  • 7 + days jail;
  • Substantial fines.
third offense within 12 years
  • Six year license revocation
  • Temporary restricted license may be available after one year);
  • 30 + days jail (a prison term is possible);
  • Substantial fines.
Note 1:   If you qualify, a deferred judgment may allow you to avoid an OWI conviction.  See below.
Note 2:  180 day revocation if you took the breath test; one year revocation for a test refusal.
Note 3:  One year if you took breath test; two year revocation for test refusal.
Note 4:  If the OWI offense involves injury to another, an additional one year revocation is imposed.

Will my defense lawyer be able to plea bargain / negotiate my Iowa DUI charge down to another (lesser) offense?

Possibly.  Under Iowa OWI law, a deferred judgment is available to first time offenders who were not involved in a injury accident, who did not refuse chemical testing, and whose BAC test result was less than 0.15 percent.  If you qualify, you plead guilty to the OWI charge and accept the court imposed sanctions.  If you complete all terms of the sentence, the OWI offense will not be entered on your criminal record.  You will not have to serve jail time; however fines and a license revocation will be imposed.

Will an Iowa OWI go on "my driving record?"

Yes.  An OWI conviction will go on your Iowa driving record and will stay on your record for at least 12 years.  You will not be able to seal or expunge an OWI conviction. 

Just how much jail / prison time will I have to do if I am convicted of a DUI in Iowa?

The amount of incarceration (jail or prison) received will depend on a number of factors, including (but not limited to) the following:

•  your prior driving record especially your OWI history (including any OWI's / DUI's / DWI's outside of Iowa);

•  your level of intoxication (high BAC) / test refusal may result in greater penalties);

•  whether there was an accident involved;

•  whether there was bodily injury to another person in the collision;

•  which Iowa county or court your case is in;

•  what judge you are sentenced by;

•  whether there was a passenger especially a child in your car;

•  whether the court feels you have accepted responsibility for your conduct.


I am licensed to drive in a state other than Iowa and I was cited for a OWI in Iowa.  Will my driver license be suspended?

Iowa only has the authority to suspend your right to drive in the State of Iowa.  However, Iowa and 44 other states and the District of Columbia have adopted an agreement known as the "Driver License Compact."  Iowa will report an OWI conviction to the home state of the driver (assuming the home state has also adopted the Compact).  Your home state will then generally take action to suspend or revoke your license.

This also works in reverse.  If you are an  Iowa licensed driver and you are convicted of a DUI / DWI / OWI charge in another state, Iowa will suspend your license (as if you were convicted in Iowa) if it learns of the conviction. 

Will I have to install an Ignition Interlock Device on my car?


A ignition interlock device (IID) is a breath alcohol measurement device that is connected to an automobile ignition.  In order to start the vehicle, a driver must blow a breath sample into the device which then measures alcohol concentration.  If the alcohol concentration exceeds the startup set point on the interlock device, the motor vehicle will not start.


Iowa law requires certain individuals who have had their driver’s licenses revoked for an OWI to install an ignition interlock device in order to be eligible for a temporary restricted license.  Installation of an IID is also required to reinstate your license under some circumstances.  Contact your Iowa lawyer to see if you may be eligible for a temporary restricted license.

My OWI involved an accident.  Do I need to file a Iowa accident report?

An accident occurring anywhere within the State of Iowa causing death, physical injury, or property damage totalling $1,000 or more must be reported on an Iowa Accident Report Form.  Failure to return an accident report form within 72 hours may result in suspension of your driving privileges. However, go ahead and file the report even if its late.

What will an Iowa DUI do to my insurability?

If your insurance company finds out about your Iowa OWI one of two things are likely to happen.  Either your Iowa insurer will raise your rates or your policy may be cancelled or non-renewed.  Your Iowa insurance company will absolutely learn of your OWI if you have to file an SR-22.

What is a Form SR-22 / Certificate of Automobile Liability Insurance?

An SR-22 is a certificate from an Iowa licensed insurance company certifying that you have purchased liability insurance that meets the minimum required coverage limits.  The SR-22 provides proof to the Iowa Office of Driver Services that you are insured.  If you cancel your insurance or the insurance company cancels your policy before your suspension period is over, the company must notify the Secretary of State Department of Driver Services that the certificate is canceled.  The SR-22 requirement must be maintained for at least two years following an OWI conviction.

How do I go about getting my license reinstated following an Iowa OWI conviction?

As a general rule, you must complete the following in order to reinstate your license:

  • Complete a substance abuse evaluation and follow any treatment recommendation directed by the evaluator.
  • Successfully complete a 12-hour drinking driver education program.  For more information, call 515.281.5251.
  • Pay any penalties, reinstatement fees, and pass any examinations as required by the court and the Iowa Department of Transportation.

For further information regarding your Iowa driving record, contact the Department of Transportation at 800.532.1121.

Will an OWI conviction keep me from becoming a teacher in Iowa?

Probably not so long as you successfully complete your court / MVD obligations.  The following language from the Board of Educational Examiners is instructive:

All criminal convictions must be disclosed.  This includes any and all OWIs.  An OWI is a criminal conviction.  The Board’s licensure question requires that an applicant disclose all criminal convictions including OWIs and all misdemeanor offenses whether a simple, serious, or aggravated misdemeanor.

Please keep in mind that not all criminal offenses, founded abuse reports, or suspended or revoked licenses from another state will result in a Board decision not to issue a license.  The applicant, however, must provide truthful information for the Board’s review.  A failure to disclose may result in the denial of a license, certificate, or authorization.

Are there special concerns for licensed pilots who get an Iowa OWI?


Yes.  The FAA has special reporting requirements for certain Motor Vehicle Actions including Iowa OWI convictions and certain implied consent / administrative suspensions.  Learn more here.

I missed my Iowa court appearance.  What do I do now?

Failing to appear (FTA) for court is to be avoided.  When you miss a court appearance, bad things follow.  At a minimum, the Iowa court typically issues a warrant for your arrest (known as a bench warrant).  Talk to an attorney as soon as possible.  Often, your only option is to turn yourself in on the outstanding warrant.  A new court date will then be scheduled.

Can I represent myself in court on my Iowa OWI and / or other criminal charge(s)?

Yes.  You have a constitutional right to represent yourself on any criminal charge no matter how serious including an Iowa OWI charge.  Keep in mind that OWI defense is a complex area of the law as shown by the information in this website.  If you cannot afford to hire your own attorney, you definitely should apply for court appointed counsel to represent you.  You have no right to court appointed counsel at your implied consent license proceeding.

Copyright 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009 by David N Lesh

Websites, including this one, provide general Iowa OWI information but do not provide legal advice or create a lawyer / client relationship.  General information cannot replace legal advice specific to your case, problem, or situation.  Consult qualified Iowa Drunk Driving lawyers for advice about any specific problem or OWI charge that you have.  Iowa attorneys are governed by the Iowa Rules of Professional Conduct.  This website may be considered an advertisement for services under these Rules.  Information contained in this website is believed to be accurate but is not warranted or guaranteed in any way.  No lawyer associated with this website is specialized or certified in any way.  This site is not a solicitation for attorney services; rather, it is purely informational.  OWI FAQ's.


Providing OWI defense and criminal defense assistance to the communities of:  Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Davenport, Sioux City, Waterloo, Iowa City, Council Bluffs, Dubuque, Ames.  Iowa attorneys may accept Visa, American Express, Discover, and MasterCard credit cards.  2013.


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